Warringah Printmakers Studio

I was invited to visit Warringah Printmakers Studio, in Sydney, by Susan Baran, their President, and Sandra Williams, Treasurer, on Wednesday 18th Feb. It was a very warm day so I was glad to get out of the Sydney traffic into this wonderfully light and airy studio. I arrived just before Susan was due to teach one of her regular classes at the studio. It is based in Manly Vale and is located within the Manly Vale Community Centre complex but has its own dedicated space. I forgot to get a shot of the exterior (which can be seen here on their website), so we’ll start with a shot down the length of the studio:

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showing Sandra and Susan busy setting up.

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Newcastle Printmakers Workshop

I visited the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop in the late afternoon of Friday 13th Feb after a long-ish but very scenic drive from Coffs Harbour. The workshop is situated opposite parklands in a lovely tree-lined street in a residential suburb of Newcastle. The building is newly refurbished after a significant grant gained in 2013 (and, for the moment, you can see the old building on Google maps street view which only serves to underline how well the external renovations were undertaken),

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complete with the group’s new logo on the street facing wall.

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Impress Printmakers

Once again, I was visiting a printmaking studio housed in an interesting building, one with a past. Impress Printmakers Studio and Gallery, in Brisbane, is in a former electricity substation for the local trams.

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The fabric of the building is protected and the customisations needed for housing printmaking facilities have been sensitively handled.

I was met at the studio, on Monday 9th Feb, by the group’s Treasurer, Sue Pickford, who had kindly taken time off work to meet me, show me around the studio and talk to me about the history and work of the group. We talked for a long time and I must admit that I was often too involved in our discussions to take notes. I hope Sue and other members will contact me with any corrections required or use the comments section below to expand on what I have managed to capture.

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The Art Vault

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I visited The Art Vault in Mildura on Tuesday 3rd Feb. The gallery is closed to the public on a Tuesday but staff are still in: hanging exhibitions, packaging and posting art and performing the usual organisational administration. The founder, joint-owner and Director of The Art Vault, Julie Chambers, showed me around. Read the rest of this entry

Bittondi Printmakers

I made the first of my Australian studio visits last Saturday (24th Jan) to Bittondi Printmakers (two Facebook links, here and here), in the Aberfoyle Park suburb, in the hills south of Adelaide. A ‘photopolymer etching’ course was being run by Julia Wakefield and I met her and the three printmakers learning this technique with her. Also there when I arrived was member Kay Walker; she and Julia showed me around the premises.

The group have a lovely building in the grounds of the Aberfoyle Park High School:

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Wild Raspberries: wip 02

This is a follow-up to Wild Raspberries: wip 01 which reported on my start of this project. I was unhappy with most of the prints there and so altered curves and levels of the images in Photoshop (after a short tutorial in how to do so from Katy Goodrich).

With the Hands image, I shifted the levels only slightly to lose the heavy dark shadow in the cup of the hands:

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The barbed outline got a bit more complicated curves adjustment to bring out the fine details more and tone down the darker lines:

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I worked a lot on the canes image, not just the one I had from the last post but another which was more of a close-up and a little more abstract. I then tried both those images overlaid with the close-up one reduced to 20% transparency and the other at 45%. These two looked like:

Image03 Image04

with the result:

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So, I trundled off to Staples again and got the images printed onto transparencies. I took these into LPW on 27th Nov and developed the images onto a new set of photolithography plates and got started printing them.

First, I printed the canes, this time using green ink. I got a couple of decent prints out of this, one of which was:

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but the last was really poor. I made a complete mess of wiping the plate down and inking up. Didn’t have a clue what was going wrong.

So, I moved on to the hands and these came out ok, but not great:

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I then took a closer look at the transparencies and it looked as though they were less well defined than the previous lot. The Staples assistant used a different printer and I think it might have been a less capable one.

Anyway, I ran a third print of the hands through but this time superimposed on one of the canes images:

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Not at all aligned properly. Need to find some way of exposing transparencies onto plates that allows for proper registration.

When I cleaned the hands plate, it seemed to have marks on the plate, as if new lines had developed out. I asked Serena about it and, after some discussion, she reckoned that it came down to too vigorous cleaning of the plates. I had been rubbing pretty hard with the turps and hadn’t realised that it might cause damage. Serena also realised that her printed instructions from the course ought to have mentioned wetting the plate or applying gum before using the turps to protect the image.

Finally, I printed the spiky outline image:

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and this one, finally, came out just as I wanted it to. The long spikes were faint but visible while the shorter ones and the centre of the outline weren’t so dark as to overpower the image. A win at last.

And to make it even better, cleaning the plate after wetting it was so much easier and caused absolutely no damage/

I’d intended another day’s printing when I would experiment with ink transparency and different colours but didn’t really have time to do this with all the preparations for my trip to Australia (now less than two weeks away).

Wild Raspberries: wip 01

I have finally got myself back into the studio to do some printing, couple of times in the last two weeks, as opposed to volunteer admin/photography or attending courses. It has been a long time coming.

I’d been *thinking* about an idea for a print for some time and thought it was time I got some real work done. The idea was inspired by reading my friend Kona McPhee‘s poem, Wild Raspberries, in her latest collection, What Long Miles. An image came to me as I read the poem and I thought it’d make a good print but, as usual, never followed through. Well, now I am.

The image I had in mind was of cupped hands over a stylised background of raspberry canes with damaged fruit held in the hands, the canes and hands printed using photolithography and the raspberries with drypoint. The affect I wanted to achieve was similar to the layered screenprints of Ruth McDonald, who I follow on twitter and whose work I really love (eg see this one). I had no idea whether I could do anything similar using photolith.

I took a set of photographs of my wife’s hands and picked one to use. Then took some shots of raspberry canes. I also created an image, a spiky outline of the hands, using Procreate on the iPad. All these were loaded into Photoshop, as separate layers so that I could see the effect of one over the other.

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Once I had each separate image the way I wanted it, the way I would want each photolith plate to look, I made just that layer visible and exported it as a full resolution jpeg (maybe should have used tiff – if Staples could print it). Those first four images were:

Hands11-c1 Hands11-c2 Hands11-h Hands11-x

I had these images put onto transparencies — tried using my own laser printer but it is on its last legs so the output was dire — using the local Staples outlet and took them into Leicester Print Workshop where I’m a member (and volunteer). This was on Thursday 20th Nov.

I’d previously done a course on photolith printmaking with Serena Smith and Kathryn Desforges. But this had been a year or so ago so I needed a refresher. Luckily for me, Katy Goodrich, the LPW apprentice, was willing and more than capable of getting me back up to speed in this technique. She showed me where all the equipment was, helped me set it up, showed me how to cut up a photolith sheet, then watched over me as I exposed the first transparency, developed and printed it. I managed the rest myself but she was always able to help when I hit problems: I’d have turned around and gone home without her.

I printed the hands first:

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Not good. The shadow in the cupped hand was much too dark. I tried the spiky outline next:

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Not happy with this either. The actual image had long, fairly light spikes but they were entirely lost in this print. I tried the two images of the canes next, first the darker one:

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This was ok as a print but was much darker than I wanted: it’d overwhelm the hands when printed over the top. So then I tried the more transparent of the cane images. This one I printed twice since the first almost couldn’t be seen:

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Not sure you can see either of them here!

I had a chat to Katy afterwards about these results. She reckoned that I needed to reduce the tonal range of the images, that photolith plates were not good with wide ranges. I wasn’t sure how to do this in Photoshop so she volunteered to help me with this (and did) on the following Monday when I was in as a volunteer.

So, not a successful day in terms of results but extremely good in terms of my printmaking education. I’ve done a follow-up day’s printing using images altered to Katy’s suggestions developed as plates. That’s for the next post.

OneNote as blogging tool

OK, I really don’t believe this is going to work, but I just read a page that says OneNote can send a page to your blog, so here goes. Apologies to anyone who sees some abortion of a post before I can delete it!

Now, let’s try adding a picture into the flow…


And a table, maybe…

One Two Three
Four Six Eight

OK. That’ll do for now. Let’s hit send!!

Surface Pro 3

I was intending to write a post about the prints I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks (and planning for at least a year) but hit a problem. That problem was that I bought a new Surface Pro 3 and, it being a shiny new toy, didn’t want to use anything else to write the post. Past blog posts have mostly been written on a Macbook Pro using MarsEdit, the best blogging app I’ve seen. Others were written on our family desktop computer using Windows Live Writer on Win7. So, I installed Live Writer on the SP3: really dire. The default font size is 7pt and changing it to the 14pt used on the website crams all the lines together; no idea why it is so bad on Win8.

I dug around on the web for a better blogging app and there don’t seem to be many around, and none in the Windows App Store. Then I found a comment on a blog complaining about Live Writer’s Win8 problems saying that Word now incorporates all the features of Live Writer. Just have to select Blog Post from the new document list of templates. So that is what I am doing here to try it out, before taking my daughter’s advice and using the WordPress online posting capability.

First, I’ll try to insert a picture, if I can find one on this machine since I’ve screwed up network drive mapping. (Actually, skip that, found out how to delete an existing mapping from command line.)

And, since it has the option in the toolbar, a table:

One Two Three
Four Five Seven
Nine Eleven Twenty

Only thing I cannot see how to do is to set tags. Oh well, lets see how it looks anyway.

Itinerary, Aus2015

I’ve worked out an itinerary for my visit to Australia next year. The roadtrip will start from my sister & brother-in-law’s place at Wallaroo, stopping the first night in Mildura. In details, the trip looks like:

Aus itin 2015

There are a few long drives in there so I really hope the car I’ve hired is comfortable.

Australia 2015

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I am heading to Australia next year; will be there from January 14th to March 10th. I’ll spend part of the time in Adelaide, my home town, but will also be doing a road trip: Adelaide – Brisbane – Sydney – Melbourne – Adelaide, around 6000km from Feb 2nd to Mar 5th.

Since our last summer visit (2010/11) was much too hot for my wife, I’m travelling on my own. And, since I’m on my own, I decided to make of the roadtrip a bit of a learning experience. I’m intending to visit as many printmaking studios and print exhibitions, along or near my route, as possible (in addition to a couple in Adelaide that I’ve found). Printmaking Today magazine have agreed to publish a Diary piece on my travels (and to look at any more detailed articles that I can produce).

People at the Print Council of Australia kindly sent me a list of all the studios they know about and I am now in the process of contacting people at those studios to arrange for visits and to find out about any exhibitions of their work that’ll be on when I’m in the area. The nature of the trip won’t allow me to spend any time working in any of the studios that might be open access, unfortunately, but I hope I can convey in my blogging and magazine article enough of a flavour of the people and facilities that others might want to visit and work with them.

I’ll use the Aus2015 category to blog about the trip and hope you’ll follow along. More as my departure approaches.

Review: Steelheart

I have to thank Gollancz for sending me this book, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (amazon, goodreads), to review.

This is the first time I’ve read Sanderson; I’ve had a library copy of ‘Final Empire’ sitting on my shelves for a few weeks after an online recommendation but hadn’t got around to reading it. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, sticking mainly to crime and science fiction, but have been reading more lately. I’d read the Prologue to Steelheart somewhere a while back and it had grabbed me from the off so when Gollancz were asking for reviewers, I added my name to the pot, was selected, and the book landed a couple of days ago. I’m also not great at reviewing, finding myself dragged into a story so much that I forget to look at it from the outside, from another’s perspective. So I’ve started this review before opening the book and will try to keep it going as I read. So, let’s get going.

Okay, the Prologue. It is an excellent introduction in that it sets out the world of the story and raises all the questions that it will likely go on to explore, all in a tense sixteen pages. After the appearance of some strange force in the skies, ordinary people have been transformed into superheroes, or people with superhero-like powers; they are called Epics. These people are using their powers to enslave the rest of the population. David, a boy of eight, sees one such Epic, Steelheart, kill his father. But he, alone, also sees that the Epic can be wounded although unaware of what circumstances combined to permit this wounding. The story quest is laid out for us: David must discover Steelheart’s weakness and defeat him. I didn’t remember all of the Prologue from my previous reading, but it was soon obvious to me why I had been so keen on getting the whole book.

The book proper starts ten years after the prologue. In all but a few isolated outposts, the (US) government has capitulated to the Epics. From the off we’re in the world of noirish fiction — everywhere is dark and the people are clothed in Prohibition-era styled clothing — only with added sci-fi, such as anti-gravity. (There’s more than a hint of the movie, Dark City, in this novel.) David’s first task in his vengeance quest is to join the one group out to take down the Epics: the Reckoners. He brings himself to their attention with some style. Of course, he then has to convince them to let him join. And this is where his ten years dedicated to studying the Epics pays off.

The story is well told and expertly written. The ‘voice’ of the novel, that of the narrator, David, an eighteen year old forced to grow up alone in a new and terrifying world order, is a convincing mix of naivety and painful experience. The tropes and character types, even the story arc, will be familiar to anyone who has read any comic that has built on the genre-switching base that was Watchman. That is no criticism. Steelheart may not be a game-changer but it fits its niche very well indeed.

I’ll stop the review-along here as any more will contain spoilers. I was unsure, half way through, whether I’d bother with the rest of this series. There was too much that was familiar from other story worlds, ones that hadn’t kept me interested. But I have to say that there are enough twists at the end to make me want to read the next book in the series. And Sanderson is a very good writer. How it gets to one of the twists is a little unbelievable but, hell, the story is good enough to hold the suspension of disbelief. This book is definitely one to pick up and stick with through to the end and I certainly recommend it to any lover of urban, dark or superhero fantasy or anyone who just loves a well-told tale.